Prageeth Eknaligoda is a journalist and cartoonist from Sri Lanka, who has been missing since 2010, and is believed to have been murdered by the government. Cartoonists Rights Network International has been on the case from the beginning:
On the evening of January 24, 2010, at about 8:30 P.M, Prageeth Eknaligoda, an investigative reporter, columnist and occasional cartoonist for the newspaperLanka E-news, left work in Rajagiriya, a suburb of Colombo. He never made it home to his wife and two sons.
Prageeth was an outspoken critic of the current regime. At the end of 2009, Prageeth wrote some scathing columns about President Rajapaksa and various members of Parliament. A year earlier Prageeth had been warned by police during an overnight arrest that unfortunate things could happen to him if he continued investigating the government.
Read the entire case history on the website of CRNI (scroll down until your reach Prageeth's case).
Prageeth's wife Sandya has fought an unrelenting battle to learn the fate of her husband: 'Her bravery and heartbreaking story have galvanized the human rights and free speech community in Sri Lanka. Her quest to force the Sri Lankan government to account for the whereabouts and the fate of her husband has also become a popular rallying point for those in opposition to the Rajapaksa government (CRNI).'
Recently, the story has taken a new and rather bizarre twist. On June 5, Arundhika Fernando, an MP for the ruling party, told parliament that Prageeth Eknaligoda was residing in France: 'Journalists who you will claim to have disappeared are living France. I too met several of them. A famous journalist whom you will always talk about is residing in France.'
The biggest problem: there isn't a shred of evidence or testimony to support this claim. Human Rights Watch has called on the Sri Lankan government and opposition to take action on the basis of these claims: 'Solving the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and that of thousands of other Sri Lankans over past decades should be a top priority of the Sri Lankan government and its investigative agencies.'
Instead, the revelation by Mr. Fernando has inspired no discernible action whatsoever. According to Keheliya Rambukwella, the Minister for Media and Information and media, the allegations cannot be investigated by the intelligence agencies, because of the parliamentary privileges enjoyed by Mr. Fernando. Although Mr. Fernando has stated he is now prepared to testify, his story has been denounced by the one witness that could have back up his claim, and other evidence (e.g. a photograph) is lacking. By way of the media, Sandya Eknaligoda has called the government's bluff: 'I request the government to bring my husband to Sri Lanka through the Embassy of France.'
The unsubstantiated claims seem to point to an effort of the ruling party to disavow the truth behind the disappearances, and thus the need to investigate them. In spite of the claimed effort to thoroughly investigate the thousands of disappearances in Sri Lanka, the developments suggest a cover-up. To make the story even more preposterous, this is the second time government officials claim Prageeth is alive and well. In 2011, Attorney General Mohan Peiris testified before the UN Committee Against Torture that Eknaligoda took refuge in a foreign country and that the campaign to solve his disappearance is a hoax. But he failed to provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP), the claims are part of a tactic of the Sri Lankan government to pave the way for a new repressive media law that seeks to re-criminalize defamation and a code of ethics that threatens to give the government a legal basis to quash journalism it deems 'unethical'.
Although the story has characteristics of a slapstick comedy, the reality is profoundly sad, with a grim outlook, not only for the fate of Prageeth Eknaligoda, but for freedom in Sri Lanka as well.